Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Festive Gingerbread Cupcakes

So, in other news today, Susie has published yet another gingerbread post ...

Yes, gingerbread, again. I know. I'm sorry. But it is that time of year. And besides, I think I told you that I love the stuff ...

Anyway, you may recall my recent Snowy Gingerbread Cottage post, in which I told you all about the humongous amount of gingerbread dough I made from a BBC Good Food recipe? I said that I had made an army of gingerbread men, and this is where they turned up. As incredibly cute (even if I say so myself) cupcake toppers dipped in dark chocolate!

Sadly, I can't take the credit for this fab idea, as I first noticed it on a Sweetapolita post last year. But it stuck in my head and I thought that when I had an opportune time, I would give it a go. And Oh My, they are delicious! Even on their own.

But on top of Gingerbread Cupcakes with Ginger Buttercream? Now you're talking my kind of winter warmer.

The cupcakes are easy to make, and I have adapted the recipe slightly from one I found in Christmas Heaven (one of the regular Food Heaven series of baking magazines) by Tamara Jane. The recipe can also be found in her book, Celebration Cupcakes.

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Ginger Buttercream

Ingredients (makes 12)

150g plain flour
1/8 tspn bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tspn salt
1 tbspn ground ginger
1/4 tspn mixed spice
75g soft unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
2 medium eggs (53-63g each in the shell) lightly beaten
50g crystallised ginger, finely chopped
80ml soured cream

For the buttercream
125g soft unsalted butter
400g icing sugar, sifted
45ml whole milk
1/2 tspn vanilla extract
1 tspn ground ginger

Preheat the oven to 155 Fan / 170 Conventional / Gas 3. Prepare a muffin tray with cupcake liners.

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, spices and salt into a bowl and set aside.

Place the butter and caster sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, and blend using the paddle attachment until light and fluffy (this should take a good 5 minutes with the mixer on medium-high).

Add the eggs one by one and mix until smooth.

Add half the dry ingredients to the egg mixture, along with half the soured cream. Mix until blended. Add the remaining dry ingredients and soured cream and mix until blended.

Fold in the crystallised ginger so that it is evenly distributed.

Scoop the mixture into the cupcake liners so that they are about half full.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 20 - 22 minutes, until risen and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the buttercream, place the butter in the mixer with the paddle attachment and blend so that it's smooth. Add the other ingredients, and then with the mixer on low to start, then moving to medium-high, mix until well blended. Keep the mixer going for a few more minutes so that the buttercream is light and fluffy. If you need to (if the mixture is a bit stiff) you could add a little more milk - maybe 1 tspn. Use to  pipe or smooth onto the cupcakes (I used it to pipe swirls using a Wilton 2D piping tip).

To make the cupcake toppers, I just used some gingerbread dough rolled thinly and cut out small cookies using the smallest gingerbread man I had. They only took a few minutes to bake until they were crisp and golden. Once they had cooled completely, I melted about 75g of plain, dark chocolate (70%), and then dipped the cookies, leaving them on a piece of baking parchment to harden. I also made some candy canes as well - you could do anything! The only thing to bear in mind is that the buttercream can make the cookies soften after a little while - so add the toppers just before serving so they stay crunchy.

The cupcakes are really lovely and moist, and they are not too gingery. There is a lovely warming background note, and then you get a little piece of crystallised ginger which intensifies the flavour momentarily. The buttercream is not too sweet, either - just right with the cupcakes - and the dark chocolate on the toppers gives an exotic hint of bitterness.



Saturday, 24 November 2012

Snowy Gingerbread Cottage

The weather these last few days has been truly frightful. As I had some time on my hands - and absolutely no inclination to venture out anywhere - it gave me the chance to do some baking. With Christmas fast approaching (is it really a month to Christmas Eve?) I also wanted to have another go at making gingerbread. And this time with the objective of trying my hand at a Gingerbread Cottage for the first time.

A couple of months ago, I bought a Gingerbread House Cookie Cutter set from Wilkinsons, as I thought it might make it a little easier to manage. The set includes cutters for the walls, ends and roof sides, with some additional ones for angels, stars, trees, gingerbread men etc. I suspect it's like many that you can get on the high street. The cutters are a little flimsy - particularly the larger ones - but while this is definitely not an heirloom set, they did the job for me.

The gingerbread recipe I used is in the current edition of the BBC Good Food Magazine, but you can also find it on line here. Be warned, it makes a lot of gingerbread! Not a problem for me, as I love it and am gradually working my way round the family to convert them to its gingery delights (Ben being the only one to have fallen for its charms at the moment). But even so, I had enough to make the gingerbread house, and army of little gingerbread men, some other Christmassy shapes, along with a few more gingerbread spoons using silicone spoon moulds. I still managed to have about a quarter of the mix left over.

The recipe gives a much more manageable dough than I found with the one in the new Great British Bake Off book, Showstoppers (see my post here), which tasted great but was a nightmare to handle. The GBBO one is made using a method which melts the sugar and syrup together, then the dry ingredients are stirred in. The BBC one I used for the cottage involves cutting cold butter into the flour in a processor, then adding the other dry ingredients, and finally the eggs and syrup to mix. I found this easier and the resulting dough was definitely easier to handle.

For the cottage walls, the dough is rolled out quite thickly (the recipe suggests the height of two stacked one pound coins), but I think mine was a little thick. It was still a little soft after cooling, so I put it back in the oven for five more minutes. That seemed to do the trick. It is also amazing how much the dough spreads as it cooks, so it is important to trim it to size again after it has been out of the oven for a few minutes but is still warm and soft.

Soup tins come in very handy!
To stick the cottage together and decorate it, I used the royal icing recipe as well. Now, the only time I've used royal icing before was to slather it on over a Christmas Cake. I've certainly never piped with it and so that was a lesson in itself for me. It was very thick - almost like trying to pipe cement. But I guess that is what you need to do the job. Piping some of the finer details was a little tricky, especially to get clean breaks in piping, and it is a bit skewiffy, but now I have had one attempt, I think I could make a better job next time.

I've got to be honest though -  I wasn't really going for neatness this time. Just hoping that the cottage sides and roof would stay up! The chimney was cut from cutters in the Wilkinson set - I don't think they are quite in proportion, or fit properly, so I ended up having to use big splodges of icing to fill in the gaps. At least with icing you can always pretend it's a blizzard!

For the little gingerbread men, I rolled the dough much thinner. As a result, not only did they cook really quickly (about 6 minutes) they have a lovely crisp texture. I had lots left over, and have other plans for them!

Anyway, I guess this marks the start of Christmas preparations in our house. I used a little set of led lights in the photos above and below, and now that they are out and lit up, I can't bear to put them away again. Next week will see us celebrate Mike's birthday, and then we'll really get down to preparing for Christmas.I love the build up, planning and anticipation.

I can't wait to see how Sam reacts to the decorations and tree. I suspect we will need the baby equivalent of an armed guard to keep him away from the baubles and lights!



As kindly suggested by Karen of Lavender and Lovage, I am entering this into this month's first birthday challenge for Teatime Treats. Karen runs the challenge jointly, with Kate of What Kate Baked. This month's theme is a celebratory one, and as the very first Teatime Treats was based on ginger, then this may well be very apt. The round up will be published at the end of the month on Karen's lovely blog, Lavender and Lovage.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Pecan, Date and Chocolate Chip Flapjacks

I must admit that I rarely eat flapjacks, and I have never actually made them before. On the rare occurrences that I have indulged, I've thought them OK. Nothing special, and probably deceptive in terms of how healthy they are. With one of the main ingredients being oats, you'd think that they were healthier than other sweet treats. But then you factor in the butter and sugar, along with any other ingredient you want to chuck in, and suddenly they are not so healthy.

But still. When I saw some in my local supermarket the other day, I was intrigued. They were 'Date and Chocolate Flavour'. I was taken with the idea of dates and chocolate, but not so much the 'chocolate flavour', from which I inferred real chocolate was not going to be part of the deal. Bad memories of 'Scotbloc' from my school cookery lessons came to mind. (And yes, I am old enough to remember having proper school cookery lessons). Scotbloc was some kind of cake covering that you melted - supposedly like chocolate - but which didn't really taste of chocolate. Not good.

So I thought I would break my flapjack duck and have a play around. These are the result, and, even if I say so myself, I was really pleased with them. Actually, they are bloomin' gorgeous! I took some in to work with me this week, and they vanished pretty quickly. They are easy to make, and the date and chocolate give a rich flavour, while the pecans add crunch and nuttiness. Something I'll certainly be trying again as they are pefect as a lunchbox treat. Here's what I did.

Pecan, Date and Chocolate Chip Flapjacks

Ingredients (makes 16 large ones)

100g pecan nuts, roughly chopped
120g dates, stoned and chopped
100g dark chocolate chips (mine were about 54% cocoa)
200g unsalted butter, diced
200g light brown sugar
2 tbspn golden syrup
300g rolled oats (plain porridge oats are fine, just don't use the quick cook type)

Preheat the oven to 150 Fan / 170 Conventional / 350 C / Gas 4. Line a 20cm (8") square tine with baking parchment. 

Place the butter, sugar and syrup in a medium saucepan over a gentle heat. Melt, stirring, until you have a smooth sauce and the sugar has dissolved. Leave on one side to cool slightly (I did this as I didn't want the chocolate chips to melt before the flapjacks were put in the oven).

 In a bowl, mix the oats with the pecans, dates and chocolate chips.

Once the butter and sugar has cooled enough to not melt the chocolate, pour it into the oat mixture and mix well. Ensure there are no dry bits of oats left. Turn the mixture out into the cake tin, and push down and into the corners.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 40 minutes. Remove and place the tin on a wire rack. Allow to cool for 15 minutes, then cut into 16 pieces. Allow to cool completely in the tin.

Remove and then separate into pieces.

You could cut these into smaller pieces. You could ... but I'm not sure why you'd want to.



Monday, 12 November 2012

Pecan and Maple Loaves

One of the things I find when I'm baking is that I tend to use something - whether a particular bake, method or ingredient - and develop it as a theme for a while. Both nuts and maple syrup have featured in a few of the things I've baked recently (see Chocolate and Hazelnut Praline Tart, Walnut, Fig and Blue Cheese Tart and Spiced Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Frosting). It helps me focus on developing my knowledge and techniques. This little recipe introduced me to the idea of candied nuts - which are strangely addictive to munch on and yet so easy to make. 

The recipe is adapted from the latest in the Great British Bake Off books 'Learn to Bake'. This is in a different format from its predecessors, and is very much aimed at the novice baker. There are lots of recipes though that would appeal to more advanced bakers, too. These little cakes are easy to make, but full of flavour. I've topped them with a simple icing glaze rather than the cream cheese topping used in the book.

Pecan and Maple Loaves

Ingredients (makes 8)

125g softened unsalted butter
50g light brown muscovado sugar
150ml maple syrup
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
125g self-raising flour
100g pecan halves

For the glaze
About 125g icing sugar, sifted
2 tbspn maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 160 Fan / 180 Conventional / 350 F / Gas 4. The recipe uses 8 cardboard mini loaf moulds - I got these ones from my local Asda, but you can get similar from Lakeland.

Pick out 8 nice pecan halves and set on one side. Chop the others - not too finely, as you want a bit of texture. Into 3 or 4 pieces is probably ideal.

Place the butter and sugar into a bowl and mix until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and maple syrup, and then the flour. Mix until blended. Fold in the chopped nuts. Divide the mixture evenly among the moulds so that each is about two thirds full.

Place in the oven and bake for 25 - 30 minutes until golden, risen and springy to the touch.

Put the 8 reserved pecans into a bowl and mix with a tablespoon of the maple syrup. Spoon them onto a baking tray lined with parchment, and ensure the nuts are coated in the syrup. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool. Be careful as the syrup will have caramelised and will be extremely hot (so don't even think about dipping your finger in to taste it - you will get burnt). Leave until cold when the syrup will have formed a crisp coating.

Make the frosting by mixing the icing sugar with the maple syrup, and a few drops of water if it it too stiff. You want a thick, but spoonable, consistency. Pour over the loaves, making sure the tops are coated. Add a pecan half to the top of the cakes and allow to set.

It's a little tricky getting the cakes out from the moulds until you get the knack of undoing the seams carefully. You can then use a knife to loosen the icing from the cardboard. They'll then transfer easily to a plate.

Just ready for eating!



Saturday, 3 November 2012

Walnut, Fig and Blue Cheese Tart

This is another autumn pastry experiment that turned out to be a lovely lunchtime treat. The walnuts in this recipe are in the pastry. This gives a lovely nutty flavour, with a crunchy flakiness to the base. The figs are nestled into a savoury mix of eggs, cream, blue cheese, shallots and thyme. Warm from the oven this tasted great; sweet figs offset by the tangy notes of the blue cheese. It kept well and still tasted good the next day.

The only thing that I thought was a little disappointing was the pastry - texturally it was really nice, and while it was noticeably more flavoursome than pastry using all plain white flour, there was not much walnut taste. Plus, the nuts made it a little harder to work with than normal shortcrust. It cracked a bit when I was lining the tin, but it was actually pretty easy to patch it with a little ball of additional dough. I found the base recipe on the BBC Good Food website, and it's available on line here
Walnut, Fig and Blue Cheese Tart
For the walnut pastry
200g plain flour
100g plain wholemeal flour
150g butter, diced and chilled completely
100g walnuts, blitzed finely in a food processor
2 medium egg yolks 
3 tbspns ice cold water
For the filling
150g shallots, finely diced
1 tbspn fresh thyme leaves, chopped
200ml creme fraiche
200ml double cream
140g blue cheese
3 - 4 figs, cut in half and brushed with a little honey
Preheat the oven to 180 Fan / 200 Conventional / Gas 6. Grease your tart tin. I used a 36cm x 12cm (14 inch x 5 inch) rectangular tin rather than the 20 - 23cm round tin in the original recipe.
To make the pastry, blitz the walnuts in a food processor until you have a fairly fine grind. You do need to be careful not to overdo it though, or the nuts will become too oily. Set aside in a bowl.
On this occasion I followed the recipe and used my food processor to make the pastry. You could do this by hand though. You whizz the flour and chilled butter briefly, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the walnuts and whizz very briefly to mix. In a jug, lightly beat the egg yolks with the water. With the motor of the processor running, slowly add the egg and water mix to the pastry, stopping when the dough just starts to come together. See picture above. 
Turn the dough out onto the work surface and gently bring together into a lump. I tried to form mine into a rectangle (instead of a ball), so it would approximate the finished shape I wanted once rolled out. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes.

When ready, roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface and line your tart tin. Gently prick the base with the tines of a fork, then line with baking paper and baking beans. Bake blind in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and then bake for a further 10 - 15 minutes. When cooked, remove form the oven and turn the oven down to 160 Fan / 180 conventional / Gas 4.

While the pastry is baking, make the filling. Saute the shallots in a little oil until soft and golden. Add about half of the thyme and stir gently. Add some salt and pepper. If you have it to hand, you could also add just a little (say 2 tbspns) of white wine, cooking until reduced.

Spread this mix over the cooked pastry base.

Place the eggs in a jug and beat lightly. Add the creme fraiche and cream and mix well. Add a little salt and pepper to season. Crumble the blue cheese, and sprinkle over the shallot mixture.

Cut the figs in half and brush the cut sides with a little honey. The original recipe said to use cooking oil, but I didn't want to do that and thought that, instead, honey would enhance the sweet flavour of the figs. I didn't use much though, as I didn't want it to burn. Just the merest whisper smoothed over figs.

Carefully pour the cream mix into the pastry case, but don't fill it to the top. Arrange the figs in the mixture. Now you can top it up if you need to with a little more cream.

At this point, I was worried about the cream mix dripping form the tin, so I placed the tart tin on a baking tray. However, I carefully rested it slightly diagonally on the edges, so that while the tray would catch most of the drippings (if there were any) as there was a gap between the tart tin and the baking tray, the hot air from the oven would still get to the base of the pastry to cook it.

Anyway, bake in the oven. If you're using a round tin, this could take 60 - 75 minutes. As I was using a long, narrow rectangular tin, mine took about 45 minutes. Essentially, you're looking for it the filling to be golden, but still a little wobbly in the middle - as it will firm up on cooling.

Cool for 15 - 20 minutes then remove from the tin.

Best eaten with a little bit of everything - fig, pastry and filling - in every bite!



Thursday, 1 November 2012

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Frosting

With Halloween just gone, it seems that we are well and truly into the changing of the seasons. Although I didn't get my act together enough to post this in time for yesterday, given its pumpkin theme, I thought you might like to see my interpretation of a great autumn recipe from Ina Garten's new book, Foolproof.

I love Barefoot Contessa. I'm sure I've told you that before. Discovering the programme was a complete revelation to me. This was shortly after we got cable tv, around 1998, and I actually discovered that there was a whole network devoted to food and cookery programmes. I was in my element. Unfortunately work used to get in the way a bit, so I used to place a 4 hour tape in the video and set it record. Then, when I got in from work, I'd be able to watch everything. Over time, Barefoot Contessa was one of the programmes I especially looked forward to.

So anyway, when Ina comes out with a new book it is always on my must buy list. Her recipes use American cup measures, which can take some working out into metric (or imperial), but I've always found them consistently reliable. Her coconut cupcakes are one of my all time favourites. When I was looking for some pumpkin recipes for autumn, I came across her recipe for these cupcakes. You can find it on line here, and in 'Foolproof'.

Making the cupcakes is quite simple - a case of mixing the pumpkin, eggs, sugars and vegetable oil then, separately, mixing all the dry ingredients together, then combining the two. It's a bit more like muffin methodology than cupcakes.  

After baking in the oven, you decorate with a subtly maple flavoured cream cheese frosting. Ina just slathers hers on, but I decided to pipe swirls, using a Wilton 2D tip. The original recipe then uses chopped Heathbars as a decoration - as these are a US candy bar, I didn't have any to hand. But I found that a packet of honeycomb sprinkles from Sainsbury's did the trick.

I loved the taste of these. The finished cupcakes were really moist and although I couldn't overtly taste pumpkin, the overall flavour was one of a lovely, soft gingerbread. As you can get the recipe on line, I'm just going to list the ingredients and a few pointers as to how I adapted it slightly.
Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Frosting
Ingredients (makes 12)
150g plain flour
1 tspn baking powder
1/2 tspn bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tspn salt
1 tspn ground cinnamon
1/2 tspn ground ginger
1/2 tspn ground nutmeg
2 eggs (between 64 and 71g weighed in the shell)
225g canned pumpkin (not pie filling but packed pumpkin)
112g golden brown caster sugar
100g light brown soft sugar
118ml sunflower oil
For the frosting
125g cream cheese at room temperature - use full fat rather than light
25g unsalted butter softened
2 tbspn maple syrup
250g icing sugar

I managed to get 12 cupcakes out of the mix using a 2 1/2 inch ice cream scoop to portion out the batter (Ina's recipe says it makes 10).

The recipe calls for US size XL eggs - I've given the weights above - this is more like our large size. I normally weigh mine and go for a weight somewhere in the middle (for example 68g), or one near 64g and one near 71 to balance out.

I didn't have maple extract as per the original recipe, so just used maple syrup.

I used canned pumpkin, which the recipe calls for. You could probably use mashed pumpkin you'd prepared yourself - but I think you would need to make sure the mash was quite dry, as that's the texture of canned. Otherwise the batter would just be too runny and the cakes would not work.

Hope you all had a fantastic Halloween!